Things have come full circle for James McDonald. After graduating in 1985 with his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Arizona State University’s School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering (then the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences), McDonald went on to have a successful career in the semiconductor industry, including founding his own company, Cactus Semiconductor, in 2002. Now he’s coming back to teach at the school that got him started on his path.
The Fall 2022 semester marks a new beginning for McDonald, who will teach an undergraduate class in circuit design and oversee undergrad students’ senior projects. He always wanted to pass on his knowledge to students and help them advance in their careers. McDonald has dabbled in teaching in an academic setting before, as well as serving as a coach for tennis and endurance sports.
“I’ve found a tremendous amount of satisfaction helping others achieve their goals,” he says. “Some of my best memories have come from these teaching and coaching opportunities.”
One of McDonald’s former colleagues in the semiconductor industry had begun teaching at ASU. After selling his company, McDonald decided the time was right for him to also make his return to ASU. This timing lined up perfectly with an open position at ASU.
Before running Cactus Semiconductor, McDonald spent more than 15 years in integrated circuit design positions in various companies. When he learned that the business unit where he worked was being discontinued, he began exploring entrepreneurship.
“I became intrigued and excited about the possibility of running my own company and working through the challenges of such an endeavor,” McDonald says. “The idea of being able to make decisions in real time and move forward with limited bureaucracy was also very appealing.”
So, he and a business partner started Cactus Semiconductor, originally named Cactus Custom Analog Design. The company specialized in low-power, mixed-signal application-specific integrated circuits for use in medical devices.
After Cactus operated successfully for more than 15 years with McDonald as its president, medical device manufacturer Cirtec Medical bought the company in 2018. McDonald stayed on as a general manager with the company through early 2020.
The sale of his company gave McDonald the opportunity to focus on finding the right fit for a full-time teaching position. What goes around comes around, as McDonald now returns to his old undergraduate campus.
As he begins teaching at ASU, McDonald encourages other alumni, even those without doctoral degrees, to consider teaching at ASU themselves.
“Many alumni in industry have a tremendous amount of experience. This experience can bring a perspective to the classroom that is unique and valuable,” he says. “So if you have an interest in sharing your knowledge in the classroom, I’d encourage you to get involved and reach out to ASU.